and the Internet have forever changed what its like to be a college
student. What nobody seems to have figured out yet is whether or or not
thats a good thing...
On a visit to Pomonas campus last spring I asked Anthony Nguyen
and Larry Cooper, both of Information Technology Services, to show me
the schools connection to the Internet. I wanted to see the actual
wire where Pomona meets cyberspace. They were psyched at the request,
perhaps recognizing in me a fellow geek. It would be a few minutes, though,
because they had to find the right keys.
We walked through ITS, stuffed behind the Mudd Science Library. The computer
lab and attached classroom were full of students working on end-of-year
projects, typing on flat-screen monitors. Through a door behind the Seaver
Labs front desk, though, the environment was more corporatelow
lights, dark industrial carpeting, a raised floor that echoed boxily as
we walked on it. Office doors were decorated with Dilbert
cartoons, a feature of IT offices mandated in the Starfleet charter. Behind
glass, a room full of black and silver servers sorted e-mail and files,
light-emitting diodes flashing inscrutably. We kept walking.
We emerged from the back door onto a loading dock. An orange generator
the size of a U-Haul hummed nearbycomputers need power the way cows
need grass. The right keys now acquired, Cooper unlocked a thick door
in the wall. On the other side of an antechamber, cool and dark as a pharaohs
tomb, was a door marked ITV Inside. Inside this concrete-walled
closet was a tall bank of more boxes with lights, mounted in a metal rack
and choked by a multicolored snakes nest of computer cablesblue,
green, yellow. Thick black cables dropped into holes in the floor; truncated
copper phone wire disappeared into the ceiling.
Every building on campus connects to the network through fiber optic cables
that end in this room. And from one of the boxes in the rack curls an
orange wire about the width of a strand of cooked spaghetti. The sliver
of glass inside links to the Claremont Intercampus Networking Effort,
or CINE. And in one of Harvey Mudd Colleges Lego-block buildings,
the CINE connects to
well, everywhere, really. That orange cable
links Pomona to the Internet, the invisible city in which we all now live.
Nguyen reached for the wire and held it gently. Thats it,
To no ones particular surprise, the most innovative advances
in the use of technology, including networking, tend to be in
the sciences. Here, John Donovan 02, in the astronomy classroom
of the Andrew Science Building, works with Associate Professor
of Biology Bryan Penprase (visible on the screen) in Brackett
Observatory, using a direct link between the two locations. Using
that link, Penprase and his students can control the equipment
and obtain observations remotely
from the two 14-inch telescopes in Brackett and the Colleges
one-meter telescope at Table Mountain.
Photo by Phil Channing
When I arrived at Pomona 15 years ago some of my dorm-mates brought word
processors, glorified typewriters, to their rooms in Smiley. I had
a PC with 128 kilobytes of RAM, two 5.25-inch floppy disc drives and an
amber screen monitor. I dont remember anybody connecting to anything.
By my senior year, many of my friends wasted time on Internet Relay Chat,
party lines for the touch-type set. I had an e-mail address, but no one
I knew besides my roommate had one, and why would I e-mail him?
Today a high-speed computer network is a utility, like electricity or
gas. Its so pervasive that Pomona students only notice it when its
not there. The Internet has fundamentally changed higher education. Pedagogy,
socializing, research, even the day-to-day business of running a college
have all been altered by connectivity. It turns out I was a pioneer, according
to Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar at Claremont Graduate University
and director of the Campus Computing Project. You and some of your
classmates may have been part of the group that had the computer language
Logo in elementary school or junior high, had online experience with CompuServe
or Prodigy. Now we have a whole generation of faculty coming to campus
who are your counterparts, Green said. This is the first generation
coming out of assistant professorships and earning tenure for whom technology
has been part of their experience.
In 1985 a UCLA survey asked American freshman whether they had used a
computer frequently during their senior year of high school. Only 27.3
percent answered yes. Then, in 1989 Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher
at a particle physics lab in Switzerland, invented the World Wide Web.
In March of 1993 some kids at the University of Illinois in Champaign,
led by an undergraduate computer science major named Mark Andreessen,
created a piece of software called Mosaic. It was the first graphical
Web browser. Eventually their companyNetscapedeveloped the
first browsers that a normal person could install and use. In 1993 the
Web had a few hundred distinct sites. Today there are hundreds of millions.
At Pomona over 95 percent of students now have their own computers. And
more important than the computers is the wire strung between them.
Jurgen Froehlichs office is on the top floor of Mason Hall, tucked
into a narrow hallway. Hes a professor of German, and I wanted to
meet him because he killed the language lab.
Thats not totally accurate. Froehlich was head of the lab, that
blue-tinted room of cassette tapes droning in tongues through vinyl headphones.
Hes a good liberal arts professor, so he did what theyre trained
to do. He deconstructed it. But like some cursed demon from a 1980s horror
movie, the beast yet livesin cyberspace. Froehlich, for one, seems
to think this is a good thing.
Whenever we had evaluations, students always criticized the lab,
he says. One of the things was, they didnt like that they
had to come to the lab. I realized we could reverse the process. Instead
of the students coming to the lab, the lab could come to the students.
He types a location into the Web browser on his old Macintosh G3, explaining
that in the mid-1990s, he digitized all the old practice tapes that used
to hang on a peg board and installed a server in the language lab. Then
the College got wired, he says.
The popularity of the music file-sharing service Napster got the virtual
lab off the ground. The students all began to copy music with mp3s,
Froehlich says, referring to Napsters media format. I thought,
fantastic! If theyre happy with the quality of the music,
Im happy with the quality of voice.
He types his name and a password into the fields on his screen, explaining
that professors can still track their students usage of the lab.
A list of six languages comes up, all hotlinkedeverything that used
to be on tapes is now available for download. Once that was up and running,
it was a short jump to adding digitized video, like a German language
instruction TV series called Fokus Deutsche. Theres
digitized art, even a dozen national anthems.
Everything the lab once had on tape now comes over the networkevery
sentence to repeat, every video to watch (with subtitles and without).
Its all the benefits of the labrepetition, pronunciation practice
and time spent living in the language studiedwithout the hassle
of actually getting there.
Or, depending on a students level of commitment, its a simulation
of the real lab that includes the capability to turn the speaker volume
down and go to the Coop. But Froehlich says its a more creative,
interactive approach to language. Students, professors can find
their own reasons for it. What are the words, et cetera, he says,
raising his voice to be heard over La Marseilles. We
have to find more and more ways to get more interesting materials, maybe
film clips, because these days students are very visual.
Its a refrain Id hear often: the computers get the messy work
out of the way, making the interaction with information deeper, more creative.
In the past, because we had no other way to do it, we focused on
grammatical accuracy, Froehlich says. Now, with the Net, we
can say, how about cultural information?
This is what Greene of the Campus Computing Project describes as richness
We walk to the end of the hall where the language lab used to be. Its
been divided into two rooms. One side is a seminar room; the other is
a classroom fully tricked-out for multimedia. Theres a TV, CD player,
DVD player and VCR. On a high desk at the front of the room is a keyboard
and flat-screen monitor, hooked to the network. Next to it is a visualizer,
the modern version of an overhead projector, that displays anything from
transparencies to three-dimensional objects. A digital projector hangs
from the ceiling, pointing at a retractable movie screen.
When Froehlich and I enter, Catherine John 05, a romance language
major, is polishing a class project. Shes looking up at the screen,
watching scenes from the movie Le Fabuleux Destin d Amélie
Poulain, framed by the familiar graphics of Microsoft Windows. The
steps of Montmartre flash by; beneath them, in another window, is that
Ile de la Cité? Its Paris, anyway, glossily rendered and
faintly pixilated. But the movies not on video yet, so whered
she get the clips?
The DIVX [of the movie] is just bootleg from the Internet,
John says. The only other thing is the Web site. Can I have that
open as well?
She can. When she finishes, I ask what shes working on. The class
deals with France during the German occupation. She has to give a talk,
in French. I went to France this summer and saw this movie. Im
focusing on, like, how it really is characteristic of Paris, she
says. Its one of the first French movies thats not really
depressing. Ironically, it also relies heavily on digitally-altered
imagery to depict an idealized city of lights. Its a computerized
presentation about a computerized citya fabulous destiny indeed.
Okay, so its a set-up shot. Jacqueline DuBose 04
might not normally be found tapping away on her laptop in the
middle of Marston Quad. But with the completion of the planned
campuswide wireless network over the next couple of years, more
students may be seen surfing the Web, sending e-mails or instant-messaging
in unlikely places. Using a hot new technology called 802.11b,
or Wi-Fi, the College will be divided into invisible zones in
any of which, given the right hardware, a laptop or personal digital
assistant can reach the Internet and sail away...
Photo by Phil Channing
Into Jacqueline DuBoses (04) double in Wig Hall, she and
her roommate have managed to cram a couch along with their beds and desks.
DuBoses desk has enough clear space for her laptop, and its
jacked into a wide, modular port in the wall. Molding, hiding the cable,
stretches from the plug up the wall and into the ceiling. You dont
ever really sign on or sign off, she says. A lot of people
are always on AIM, AOL Instant Messenger. Unless you want to work. Then
you sign off. DuBose is something of an instant-message addict.
In addition to classmates, she messages friends from back home, the Bronx,
as well as her mother. She gets up at, like, 4 a.m. anyway, so it
works out that were up at the same time. Thats no doubt
truePomonas network sees its heaviest usage between midnight
and 4 a.m.
Pomona has a port-to-pillow ratio of one to one. That means
everyone who lives on campus has a jack into the network. Bring a laptop
with the right hardware, and your bedroom has an Ethernet connection fast
enough to download full-motion video. From those jackswhich also
accommodate cable, should a student (or her parents) spring for itwires
travel into the bowels of every dorm. Nguyen and Cooper showed me one
of the dorm wire closets, in the basement of Oldenborg. It was another
high rack of routersthose HAL-looking boxes. Three orange fiber
pipes headed to a South Campus hub, and hundreds of blue wires, twisted
into thick strands, descended from the ceiling. These end at every Borgies
desk. And every building has a room just like this one.
The network has become an extension of DuBoses coursework. My
professor of neuroscience has all the PowerPoint slides for the class
and the syllabus on line, she says. He doesnt even have
a hard copy of the syllabus. So, if the lectures are on the Web,
why go to class? Hes tricky, because he definitely gives you
information thats not on the slides.
Her classes also use a system called E-Reserve, readings for classes posted
on-line by Honnold Library. Instead of relying on Kinkos for photocopied
readings, professors can now put excerpts on-line. Textbook publishers
have, by and large, been eager to take advantage of the Web as a nimble
and cheap publishing medium. They can post supplementary materials on-line,
and professors can link to newspapers or sites pertaining to what theyre
teaching. Fair-use laws allow posting of otherwise copyrighted material
for educational use. Some courses also use college-provided software to
maintain a virtual space on the Web to post assignments and continue class
Thats not surprising. Nationwide, 20 to 25 percent of all college
courses use some kind of course management or learning
management system on line. Between half to three quarters of all
colleges have standards for those products. In other words, todays
classroom extends into virtual space.
Having 24/7 access to the Web makes it a useful late-night research tool.
Many professors tell students theyll answer e-mail until some hour
of the night. If youre doing a history paper, and its
like, What was the year of that legislation? you just get
on Google, FindLaw or something like that, DuBose says. But
I would hope people arent finding valuable theoretical ideas from
The school hopes the same thing. In the old days, Honnold Library
was not the Claremont Public Library, and you knew when you went into
Honnold there were different kinds of books. It was a natural form of
screening that the bibliographers and faculty did for you, says
Gary Kates, Pomonas academic dean. But now that every student is
at the receiving end of a geyser of information, those filters are off-line.
We have a long way to go with trying to figure out how to structure,
in a way thats both efficient and sophisticated, bibliographic instruction
for undergraduates. We just ask our students to use common sense and think
critically. Publication itself used to be a good marker for truth,
but thats not true anymore. What counts as authoritative in something
like film studies? A scholarly on-line journal? People magazine? Somebodys
personal Web log? And what happens when a Web site updates the information
it contains? Nobody has a good answer. You have to tell students,
You are responsible for the sources you cite for your argument,
Last spring a faculty group met extensively with ITS representatives to
begin developing a comprehensive plan for expanding the use of technology
in the curriculum. Getting these two groups talking to each other
is crucial, says Ken Pflueger, the executive director of Information
Technology Services. He came to Pomona a year ago, tasked to be the guy
to totally revamp the Colleges administrative computers as well
as to work with the faculty to figure out how to use the network as a
teaching tool. He knows that for skeptical professors, the bottom line
is whether or not all this new technology can help students learn.
Economics professor Gary Smith thinks the jurys still out. It
definitely frees up time for thinking, as opposed to drudgery, he
says. Smith teaches a course in banking that relies on a computer to simulate
reality. Program in the right equations, and itll crunch data and
tell you what would probably happen in real life. Smiths students
team up to manage competing banks, making decisions based on data they
get from the model he programmedunemployment rates, consumer spending
and so on. Friday the teams hand in their decisions, and by Monday the
computer has spit out the consequences.
So the computer does some of the crunching students used to do and lets
them think weighty thoughts. In statistics and econometrics classes,
there used to be a lot of time dedicated to calculations, Smith
says. The courses today are much more focused on questions like,
how do you build a model? How do you get good data? How do you interpret
Standing on the steps of Carnegie while his class took an exam inside,
David Menefee-Libey told me much the same thing. His government classes
now have access, via the Web, to U.S. Census data, Florida vote counts
and contemporaneous news accounts. Why survey 20 people in your dorm and
plot the data when you have access to exit polls from 20,000?
The professors who incorporate the Web into their coursework want it to
be a means, not an end. Final projects for Mary Coffeys intermediate-level
Spanish classfocusing on contemporary Spanish cultureare reports
that get posted on the Web. They have a text element, a couple of pages
in Spanish, as well as pictures, sound and links to related sites. The
Web encompasses a vast amount of pop culture, Coffey says, which makes
it ideal for teaching about the contemporary world. In addition to the
usual readings of literature and El País, her students get weekly
training sessions in Web development tools.
But why not just write an essay? Coffey stops scrolling through the most
recent contemporary Spain projects on her computer and turns to look at
me. I am a six-foot-tall pale girl from the Midwest. Who would ever
guess I would become a professor of Spanish? she says. But
part of it is that I had the experience of Spanish culture and fell in
love with it. Its something about the culture that this part of
the course allows me to share with the students.
Its a pretty notion, but one that still hasnt permeated the
campus. My sense is that there are individual faculty whove
been doing some really interesting things, but there hasnt really
been a common focus or a sense that this is the direction we want to go,
this is the role we want to have technology play in the instructional
programs at Pomona, says Pflueger. Ive seen it at a
number of institutions, workshops teaching the faculty some program, and
the faculty feel like they have to use it. Im trying to bring the
focus back to what the pedagogical issues are.
Some experts say on-line education may be best suited for training people
to do specific jobs. Three thousand colleges are offering something
where, they say theyre preparing you for a job, but then you take
English, physics, and you havent actually been trained, says
Roger Schank, the chief education officer of Carnegie Mellon University
West, a Web-centric version of CMU to open in Silicon Valley in September.
Why dont we work in concert with companies and actually prepare
you for the experience of work? Schanks school will rely entirely
on computer-generated models and simulations of the business environment
to train students to be executives.
But despite Schanks skepticism, the point of going to Pomona is
not to train for a job but to learn to think, to analyze, to be a citizen.
The Web messily democratizes access to information, so students can now
search out content beyond what their professors or textbooks tell themthe
ultimate rebellion. This change is what Pomona wants to embrace. Navigating
the overload of information is what all of us are doing beyond college,
says Kates. We are actually training students for this. Whatever
their occupations are, theyll need to select information critically.
The technological infrastructure will expand even further. At Pomona,
students will soon be able to register for classes and select dorm rooms
via the Web. The new system will work on all five campuses, making cross-registration
easier. Department chairs will have access to their budget information.
Students will be able to see their financial aid information, grades and
courses taken. Its the kind of e-commerce banks and on-line booksellers
have been doing for years.
In a couple of years, Pomona will have a campus-wide wireless network.
The hot technology for getting this done is called 802.11b, or Wi-Fi,
and it sets up zones around public spaces where, given the right hardware,
a laptop or personal digital assistant can access the Internet. The invisible
city will become even more invisible, and more pervasive. The wire closets
Nguyen and Cooper showed me will become so very early-2000s. Students
will surf the Web from Marston Quad, or during lectures.
For some this sounds like heaven. For others, it simply heightens floating
anxieties over the possibility of falling into Schanks trap, of
building not a better college but a collegiate simulation of some Dilbert-like
Ken Wolf, professor of history, believes hes typical of the many
Pomona professors who view high-tech teaching with a mix of interest,
skepticism and concern. For classroom management, its great,
he says. Putting syllabuses on line, being able to accept a paper
outside of class, keeping the discussion going between classesthose
are all good things.
In the classroom, however, he doubts that computers always have a role
to playparticularly in the small, intimate, seminar-type classes
that are Pomonas specialty. Its hard to see how that
kind of technology applies in our average Pomona seminar15 students
and a professor sitting around a table and talking about a book. Where
do you put the monitor, and what do you do with it?
Until now, Wolf believes, most of the thinking about how to make teaching
and technology mesh has been driven by large institutions concerned with
delivering material to huge classes or off-site locations. If Pomonas
smart, well think hard and be really skeptical and say, What
out of all this really helps us do what we do best?
Pflueger agrees that its not a case of one-size-fits-all. For
instance, distance learning isnt in our mission here at Pomona,
so no ones even exploring that. What we do with technology here
has to grow out of our own educational goals. I think as we continue to
talk, we can move past a lot of the remaining skepticism and concern.
In the end, however, he believes the deciding factor is likely to be the
students themselves. Our new generation of students played computer
games before they could talk, he points out. Theyve
grown up with e-mail and the Web. What are their expectations? What do
they respond to? After all, what we do is really about them.
Adam Rogers 92 is a
reporter for Newsweek
and a frequent contributor to PCM.
Photos by Michael Larsen '89 and Tracy
Talbert; Photo illustration by Mark Wood.